14th September 2013
For all the good things the ICC trials are touted to achieve – justice for victims, a blow against impunity, a lesson for aspiring despots – it cannot be denied that it shines an uncomfortably bright light on hypocrisy. It also allows us to view risk and courage and the concept of justice from an inverted angle. More about this later, but first, let us probe hypocrisy.
Democracy’s original sin is hypocrisy. When national pride or self-interest is at stake, powerful nations have always chosen an infinitely practical imperative called might is right. Consider the actions of the most mature democracy on earth – the United States of America. Throughout the eighties, it supported and armed Irag, especially during the First Persian Gulf War. Later, when Saddam Hussein was seen as a threat to Western interests, they imposed 12 years of punitive sanctions. When this did not succeed to remove Sadam from power, they, led by the US, invaded under the pretext of pre-empting Sadam’s use of weapons of mass destruction. Now, ten years after a three-trillion dollar invasion, 2.7 million dead and untold human cost, the great land of Mesopotamia lies flat on its back.
Incidentally, at the time of the Irag-Iran conflict, the U.N. Security Council accused Irag of using chemical weapons. Foreign Policy Magazine, quoting declassified CIA documents, says ‘U.S. intelligence officials both knew of Iraqi chemical weapons use and provided Iraq with satellite imagery to guide strikes against Iranian troop concentrations.’
Now hear President Obama on August 31st 2013 accusing Bashar al Assad, Syria’s leader, of using chemical weapons:
“This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security. It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. …In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted. Now, after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets.” Perfumed hypocrisy?
Then there is the West’s dalliance with assorted African dictators and repressive governments. The late Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa’s apartheid regime come to mind. There are other tragic misadventures, too many to enumerate. During such misadventures, you will hear concepts such as democracy, justice, freedom, and human rights tossed around. The truth, however, is all these are secondary to greed, pride and self-interest. And where these are at play, might is right. Period.
Now consider the case against the three Kenyans accused at the ICC. The crimes are reprehensible, but no less reprehensible, I presume, than those committed by the West against the people of Iraq. The only reason Tony Blair (former UK prime minister) and George W Bush (former US president) still walk free despite their leading roles in the Iragi massacre is simple: the powerful always have their way.
In the Kenyan case, the trial itself is path breaking. At no time in recent history has a head of state and his deputy willingly subjected themselves to the international criminal justice system. It is the more amazing in the context of Africa where a high premium is placed on the ‘dignity’ of high office. The optics of a democratically elected president and his deputy squaring off with their accusers, with the whole world watching, must be acutely uncomfortable for anyone used to the attentions of fawning followers.
It is a courageous gamble by the president and his deputy. The stakes are high but their hope – indeed their prayer -is that the evidence against them is weak and that acquittal will be swift. If that were to happen, they will return home much stronger, their international stature greatly enhanced. If the evidence is increasingly strong as the trial progresses, and the odds of conviction high, there will be strong temptation to skip the ruling. If they choose to attend the ruling and are convicted, all bets will be off. Kenya could have a peaceful transition with fresh elections or it could experience violent protests and prolonged instability. No one really knows.
Besides hypocrisy, there is a whiff of pretence in the air. “We will stand with Kenya on the ICC”, said the UK and US envoys early this week, pledging continued support to President Kenyatta and his administration. Fine words. But they came across sounding glib and pretentious. “Don’t worry, little chaps, all will be well. When this is over, we will reward you for being good boys,” is how it sounded.
The concept of justice in the Kenyan context is multi-layered. Jail is only a tiny part of it. Justice is fully served if it also addresses historical land grievances, corruption and economic injustice, and promotes forgiveness and reconciliation. If, as former adversaries, Uhuru and Ruto are able to address these issues satisfactorily, the majority of Kenyans, including victims of post-election violence, will see justice as having been served.